• March/April 2001
  • Vol. 2, No. 2

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Options for Children in Long-Term Out-of-Home Placements

A September 2000 policy brief produced as a part of the Brookings Institution's "Children's Roundtable" examines the problem of the growing number of children who are languishing in foster care for extended periods of time, with little likelihood of any eventual reunion with their biological parents or adoption.

The brief's author, Joyce A. Ladner, argues that traditional foster care has worked reasonably well when it has been short-term, with the idea that the child will either be reunited with his family or adopted fairly quickly. Foster care has been less effective in situations where reunification with parents or adoption are not realistic options, either because the parents are not likely to be rehabilitated, or the child is unlikely to be adopted due to age or handicap or some other reason.

Compounding these difficulties, as Ladner shows, are a shortage of trained social workers and a growing caseload nationwide. Ladner suggests that some new approaches are in order: "The question is what to do with children who are unlikely either to be reunited with their parents or adopted. The option of congregate (institutional) care bears examination."

She briefly describes several modern-day examples of successful congregate care institutions: SOS Children's Villages, which are now operating in several foreign countries; The Villages, founded by Dr. Karl Menninger and located in Kansas; and Girard College in Philadelphia.

Ms. Ladner acknowledges that the popularity of congregate care in the U.S. has declined over the last century, but she argues that it deserves to play a role, particularly in cases where there are no better options available. "Although congregate care is not appropriate for every child, it can help alleviate both overcrowding and inappropriate foster care placements," writes Ladner. "The fact is that fewer and fewer Americans are living in the traditional nuclear family, and that ideal family setting is virtually unattainable for many children now in public care. Care in congregate homes is certainly preferable to the care of biological parents who are neglectful or abusive. It is also preferable to the revolving door experience of too many children in foster care. Children who have been damaged in their biological families and from multiple foster care placements can find in congregate care skills to cope effectively and make a successful transition to adulthood."

A copy of the Children in Out-of-Home Placements Children's Roundtable Report is available online at: http://www.brookings.edu/comm/childrensroundtable/issue4.htm.

To order a print copy or to send questions/comments about this policy brief, contact:
The Brookings Institution
1775 Massachusetts Avenue
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-797-6105
Email: policybriefs@brookings.edu

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